Fixture: London Irish v Exeter Chiefs
Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 14
Date: Saturday 29th January 2022
Stadium: Brentford Community Stadium
The second half of the Gallagher Premiership season commences this Saturday when Rob Baxter’s Exeter Chiefs arrive in West London for Round 14 action at the Brentford Community Stadium.
Following a month’s pause in league proceedings for European action, Irish, whose two previous wins against Exeter have come away from the BCS, are seeking a first double league win over Baxter’s side since their first season in the Premiership in 2010/11.
Declan Kidney’s men walked away triumphant from Sandy Park in October with a try-bonus point in tow after a well-rounded 80 minutes that required the Exiles to fight off Exeter’s late fight-back efforts, ending 33-21.
Both Irish and Exeter succumbed to defeat in their concluding pool stage matches in Europe last weekend against Saracens and Montpellier respectively- but their try-bonus points guaranteed progression to the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup knockouts stages.
Exeter’s loss to Montpellier was their second in a mixed opening to 2022. They started the year winning against Bristol Bears before losing to Harlequins, prior to a 52-17 drubbing of Glasgow Warriors.
Exeter have the most carries (1604) and passes (2071) in the Premiership, trailing only Bristol Bears (8864) in overall metres gained (8836), and Wasps (297) and the Exiles (282) in defenders beaten (274)- so expect some entertaining running rugby this Saturday!
The boss- Rob Baxter:
Two Premiership final wins, the most recent of which was paired with a Champions Cup double in 2020, accompanied with two domestic cup trophies would have been beyond the wildest dreams of Devonians when Rob Baxter assumed his post back in 2009.
The 50-year-old began his reign as he meant to go on, guiding his hometown club and previous employers as a player to their first ever season in English rugby’s top-flight.
Baxter laced up over 300 times for Exeter as a player having joined the club in 1987, going on to embed himself in coaching capacity; firstly, as a Defence Coach whilst being the University of Exeter’s Director of Rugby, and then as Director of Rugby.
His resume expands past transforming longshot underdogs into European giants, joining the England national side’s coaching team for their successful summer tour of South America in 2013.
One to Watch- Tom O’Flaherty:
The winger is a supreme finisher that poses a threat to any team on any given day, and after a relatively quiet beginning to the 2021/22 campaign, Tom O’Flaherty seems to be coming into his own of late.
Signed in the summer of 2017 from Welsh region Ospreys, the 27-year-old has impressed the Sandy Park faithful and has become a firm favourite, touching down in Premiership semi-final wins in 2019 against Northampton Saints and in 2021 whilst hosting Sale Sharks.
O’Flaherty’s five-try haul this season began in the slender 18-15 win over Saracens in December and has recently been bolstered by his first Exeter hattrick against Glasgow Warriors in the Champions Cup, beating eight Warriors defenders on the day.
The pacey back, who has five clean breaks and has beaten 26 defenders in the Premiership, is on course to match his best try record of 11 in Chiefs white last season, currently mirroring his 0.4 tries per appearance.
Classic Encounter: London Irish 29-22 Exeter Chiefs - 27th December 2011 - Aviva Premiership
London Irish overcame a stern challenge from Exeter Chiefs to close out 2011, thanks to tries from midfield pairing Joe Ansbro and Shontayne Hape and 19 points from Tom Homer.
The win propelled the Exiles above Exeter and into play-off contention, with the former staring off the contest brightly as Ansbro finished off a stunning break spearheaded by winger Topsy Ojo.
Homer and Ignacio Mieres were on fire from the tee that afternoon, exchanging penalty kicks but the Irish Academy prospect did enough to give his side a 10-point lead at the break.
Hape stopped the building momentum from the visitors, who had a Luke Arscott try disallowed, by grounding over the line himself before Arscott eventually prevailed, grabbing his try with another Mieres penalty earning Rob Baxter’s team a well-earned losing bonus point.
Tries: Joe Ansbro, Shontayne Hape
Conversions: Tom Homer (2)
Penalties: Tom Homer (5)
Try: Luke Arscott
Conversion: Ignacio Mieres
Penalties: Ignacio Mieres (5)
Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter analysed his side’s performance in the wake of a 37-26 loss to Montpellier Hérault, having qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions Cup for the third successive season.
Baxter admitted: “Obviously, we’re a little disappointed- we started brightly with that early try, we didn’t pull ourselves together.
“We looked a little bit over enthusiastic to get the ball from edge to edge.
“If anything, we were slinging the ball around a fair bit for little reward.”
On a day where his three tries on his 100th appearance brought him to 75 overall for the club, Sam Simmonds opened the scoring in the Round 4 matchup before a first-half onslaught from the hosts left Exeter trailing by 21 points.
Nevertheless, the Chiefs admirably rallied back; with the final two of the Simmonds’ try-scoring efforts and centre Sean O’Brien’s first for Exeter put them two points ahead before Cobus Reinach’s late try proved the difference.
“What we should have been prepared to do was go through phase play, because that was always going to be the killer for us today.
“We knew if we could get through the phases, we were always going to score points.
“That’s kind of what we grew into – we started to get some reward – but then we went a little off script again as the game went on and we made some errors which proved costly in the end.”
Click here to buy tickets for the match!
(Preview compiled by Ryan Fitzgerald-Nolan)